My father, of blessed memory, served as a medic in the American army during World War 2, and he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his courageous work under fire. After the war, he became a practical nurse, and for much of his life he served as an ambulance attendant for Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City. As I mentioned, Shabbos was his yahrtzeit. When I thought about his loving devotion to his patients, I felt that I should share with you some information and stories about Dr. Moshe Wallach, the founder and director of Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem. Dr. Wallach was a skilled physician who was known for his loving devotion to healing the sick of Jerusalem, and this devotion was inspired by his fervent commitment to the teachings and mitzvos of the Torah.
Dr. Moshe Wallach was a young Torah-committed physician in Germany when he decided to go to Jerusalem and set up a clinic. On his arrival in 1891, Dr. Wallach settled in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. There he opened a clinic and pharmacy. Within a short period, he recognized the great need for a new hospital, and eventually his committee purchased a large strip of land on the outskirts of the New City on Jaffa Road.
Construction got underway in 1896. Amazingly, the project foreman for this two-story model hospital was Rav Yaakov Mann, a complete novice to the building profession. Rav Yaakov Mann taught at the famous Etz Chaim Yeshiva, where he was known for his high-level lecture in Talmud. Rav Yaakov expressed an interest in becoming the foreman of the building project to a surprised Dr. Wallach, who subsequently introduced him to the hospital’s noted engineer and architect, Theodore Sandel. The noted architect spread out the plans for the proposed construction and proceeded to discuss them at length with Rav Yaakov, who drew his knowledge of basic architecture from an in-depth analysis of the Talmudic tractate Eruvin. Rav Yaakov astounded the architect with his astute comments and the excellent revisions which he proposed. Several days later, Rav Yaakov was supervising the three hundred workers engaged in constructing the new hospital building.
As the founder and director of the new hospital, Dr. Wallach concerned himself with every facet of its operation; in fact, the hospital became colloquially known as, “Wallach’s Hospital.” Under his leadership, the hospital made a very valuable contribution to the health of the city’s residents, and he was greatly respected by all segments of Jerusalem’s population. Dr. Wallach also became involved in helping destitute new immigrants to Eretz Yisrael.
Dr. Wallach established a hospital that was to be run according to Torah values and “halacha” – the detailed requirements of the Torah path. Dr. Wallach’s spiritual and halachic guide was Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, with whom he developed a very close relationship. When the hospital was founded, most of Jerusalem’s Jews were the devout members of the Old Yishuv, and Dr. Wallach became a respected lay leader of this community; moreover, he later became active in the Jerusalem branch of the international chareidi organization, Agudath Israel. The religious Jewish residents of Jerusalem felt comfortable knowing that Dr. Wallach was not only one of the top doctors in the city, but also a religious Jew who shared their faith and spiritual values.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner (1906-1980) was the head of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and a member of the Council of Leading Sages that guides Agudath Israel of America. When he was a young man, he studied Torah for a period in Hebron, an ancient holy city in the southern region of Eretz Yisrael. In a letter to one of his students, he shares the following memory of Dr. Wallach:
“I recall my visit to the hospital of Dr. Wallach in Jerusalem, when I saw him approaching the bed of a patient about to enter the operating room. Dr. Wallach asked the patient the name of his mother so that he could pray for him before the operation. (According to Jewish tradition, we mention the patient’s name and the name of his mother when we pray for healing.) When I mentioned this incident to one of the great men of Jerusalem, he exclaimed, ‘How envious one must be of this Jew, who has marvelous opportunities to serve as an instrument for the honor of Hashem!’ ”
Throughout his many years of service, Dr. Wallach ran the hospital with strict discipline and compassionate care. Some of his contributions are described in the memoirs of Dr. Wallach’s famous head nurse, Schwester (Sister) Selma Meyer, a religious Jewish woman who, like Dr. Wallach, came to Jerusalem from Germany. She mentions that although he was known to be strict about hospital rules, he had a sense of humor, and she tells the following story: Once a woman was standing outside the locked gate after hours, when Dr. Wallach, whom she never met, was about to leave for the day.
“Oh please, let me in for five minutes,” she said. “I want to see my husband, who was operated on yesterday. Quickly, before that crazy man Wallach comes.”
Dr Wallach let her in, and when she returned, she thanked him many times and asked, “What is your name? You are such a kind person.”
“I am the crazy man Wallach!” he answered.”
As an example of his compassion, Schwester Selma mentions that Dr. Wallach would not let a baby cry without running to a nurse and saying:
“Nurse, have a look what is going on! Maybe the baby is sore or thirsty, or it has a stomach ache? ”
Regarding his many medical skills which were especially needed in the early days of the hospital, she writes that tracheotomies, which usually had to be done quickly, were performed by Dr. Wallach himself; moreover, in Eretz Yisrael, “he was a pioneer in this operation.”
Schwester Selma also writes:
“Dr. Wallach passed away in his ninetieth year. There was a tremendous turnout for his funeral; half the town was there and many people came from all over the country. It was his last wish to be interned on the hospital grounds, next to Rav Dushinsky (a previous Rav of Jerusalem).” (Culled from My Life and Experiences at Sha’arei Tzedek)
Dr. Wallach, as well as Schwester Selma, did not have children, although Schwester Selma had three adopted daughters. Both of these healers served Jerusalem during periods of turmoil, famine, and war, and the above information reveals only a very tiny fraction of their good deeds. It is therefore fitting to conclude this letter with the following ancient teaching of our sages:
“The main offspring of the righteous are their good deeds.” (Commentary of Rashi on Genesis 6:9)
Be Well, and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. The following information is from a brief biography of Schwester Selma Meyer which appears on the hospital’s website:
Selma Meyer, Head Nurse
Schwester Selma's compassionate nursing established Shaare Zedek's model of care for all time. She arrived from Germany in 1916, in the midst of a typhoid epidemic in Jerusalem, which she tackled with competence and care.
In 1936, she founded and directed Shaare Zedek's School of Nursing, on which her imprint still remains.
Described by Time magazine as a living saint and "something of an angel," she died on her 100th birthday in the hospital which she had served almost her entire adult life. Her autobiography “My Life at Shaare Zedek” features momentous memories of her dramatic decades of service. The following is a link to the section of the website which provides biographical information about Dr. Moshe Wallach and Schwester Selma Meyer:
2. Some of the above information is found in the following noted work: “Guardian of Jerusalem – the Life and Times of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (Mesorah Publications). For further information, visit: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/GUAH
3. Some of the above information appears in the noted work by David Rossoff, “Where heaven touches earth” – a moving and historical account of Jewish life in Jerusalem from the medieval period to the present. A Hebrew edition is also available.
This work should be available in Jewish book stores. You can also get a copy by contacting David Rossoff, who lives in Har Nof, Jerusalem. You can contact me for his e-mail address and phone number.